We Need to Change Art Classes…

When I first started getting interested in photography, I would read article after article about settings and the best way to do it. My dad, who is also a photographer, would tell me, “The only real way you learn is to go out and do it.” It seems as though he might be one of the only people with this ideology.

Being an art major, I’ve taken my fair share of different kinds of art classes. That doesn’t mean I like them, though. With every new semester, I start with the attitude, “Maybe this art class will be better!” and every semester, I am disappointed. 

The main problem is curriculum leaders are attempting to treat art classes in the same way they would treat core curricula like math or science. The courses have strict grading on subjective themes, a flipped classroom style that is far from loveable, and the want to be a lecture-based course. Obviously, you need to have a certain grading scale to weed out the students who aren’t trying, but art courses need to grow much farther away from a traditional ‘class’.

This starts with professors prioritizing practice over lectures. Not something that would work for my Calc class, but a definite possibility for photography. Just as my dad told me, you need to go out and practice the things you’re learning, not just memorize them. Generally, art classes are three hours or longer because they qualify as a ‘lab’ class. Instead of taking students outside of the classroom to practice different techniques, we are told to sit at desks and watch a PowerPoint presentation on the different aperture numbers.

During the second semester of my sophomore year, I got the opportunity to shoot at the biggest concert venue in College Town for a major band. The experience would not only be something I thoroughly enjoyed, but would also be incredible for my photography portfolio and resume. The only problem being I would have to miss my critique for my latest photography class project. When I told my teacher about the concert and asked if I would be able to skip the critique, he told me critiques were mandatory. I ended up getting points taken off my attendance, because I was getting real-world experience instead of sitting around, talking for three hours about the ‘themes’ in my classmate’s photos.

This represents another major problem with art classes, they are not preparing us for actually working in the photography world. In 4000-level classes, the only students will be art majors who are serious about making a career in the art world. So why are professors not using their life experiences to help mentor us in future careers?

I’m not talking about giving us connections or finding a job for us, I’m just talking about basic things. Even though nine hours out of our week are spent sitting in a classroom computer lab, there is not one single lecture about building an online portfolio – the main thing needed to secure future jobs. This leaves many of my classmates without an online presence, some of them with a shawty and quick website, and the rest of us scavenging for the time outside of our three-hour classes to learn how to build a website. Something that could easily be instructed on in class, and built within one day with the right guidance.

As for actually getting gigs, the best way to do so (in my opinion) is to cold-email people you want to work with (something that also takes a good portfolio). This is another aspect of art classes that have never been taught, how to reach out to people. The only reason I started doing it was that freshman year my brother told me I had to cold-email finance companies instead of just applying and I carried the wisdom over to my photography career. By the end of my sophomore year, I had done work with the professional baseball, soccer, and hockey teams in College Town just because I emailed the social media managers my portfolio.

At the beginning of sophomore year, the baseball team reached back out to me about shooting for them in the beginning months of the school year. Since I already had internships and classes, I told them I wasn’t able to do it and didn’t know any other students who might be interested. I learned later in the year, after it was too late, that the experience was one of my classmate’s dreams.

I had been in class with her both semesters freshman year but we’d only interacted a few times. That’s how it was with most people in my photography class. You’re sitting in a lab with Mac computers that shield the vision of others and create an inability to speak with anyone but the person sitting next to you. Since we were only listening to lectures during class and not interacting, practicing together, or getting to know the other wannabe photographers, I had no idea it was her dream to shoot baseball photography.

I learned of her dream during one of our critiques when she told our teacher about it. To which he responded, “That would be nice, but you’ll need to learn a lot more before you start shooting sports.” This a technical example of how professors believe that spoon-feeding information about settings is more practical than actually photographing. In contrast, I improved the most by walking down campus to every soccer game, sitting on the edge of the field, and slowly improving.

When I first chose to take an art major as an incoming freshman, all these aspects are what made me excited to start. I wanted to get to know other people who were so interested in art that they would choose to study it in school. I wanted to get inspiration from them by practicing together, and getting unique experiences by helping each other out. Improve my portfolio, and creative process, and fully immerse myself in the art world. Instead, the last thing I want to do after sitting through a three-hour lecture is going out and take fantastic photos. 

Instead of creating and presenting projects that I am super proud of, I oftentimes find myself finishing a project just days before it’s due. Letting my classmates pull out the ‘apparent’ themes in my photos from thin air. I rush through projects so that I can spend more of my time creating art that I actually want, not just something that I know my professor will like because it blatantly pertains to the given theme.

It’s as if my art classes are just another obstacle to getting real art done.

Yours truly,

Calihan

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One response to “We Need to Change Art Classes…”

  1. […] or the same, when the tables are eventually turned and I am the one in power. I simply believe that the only way to truly practice photography is to do it. If I want to make a career out of doing photoshoots, planning every aspect of my own and learning […]

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